Monday’s session lasted seven and a half hours, and the entire discussion was spent on one bill. The Jerusalem and Golan National Referendum passed its third reading 65-33 at 11:30 PM. Most of the important details of the law were not covered by any of the news outlets, such as the fact that the bill itself was passed in 1999 and that the amendment to implement it was co-sponsored by two Kadima MKs in the previous Knesset, where it passed its preliminary and first readings. There is also a clause that would skip the referendum if 80 MKs approve the measure, and the bill can be repealed at any time with a simple majority of 2 MKs to 1. Read on to find out more about the most talked about bill of the winter.
Amendment to the Law and Administration Bill
MK Levin (Likud) explained that his amendment would allow the application of the jurisdiction and administration laws to be changed to enable a national referendum vote on the issue of territorial withdrawal that would be implemented by the central elections committee. He mentioned it was an honor to have revived this bill from the previously elected Knesset (MK’s Itzchaky and Avraham Balila from Kadima were the co-sponsors), and pass it through the committee which he chaired. He stated that this bill would prohibit the State of Israel from withdrawing or transferring territory that has been annexed unless a majority of a national referendum vote approves it after 61 MKs approve the measure. He explained that in 1999 a similar bill had passed but couldn’t be implemented because of judicial loopholes. He reported that most western countries have national referendums for certain situations. He added the current bill had passed a first reading with 65 MKs supporting the bill under Prime Minister Olmert’s administration. Levin explained that he added four objections to the bill in order to please the government and have its approval, the most important of which was an objection that included a clause that would allow the Knesset to skip the referendum if 80 MKs supported doing so. He concluded by stating that the referendum would bring peace between peoples, as opposed to a peace just between leaders.
Speaker Rivlin asked what the difference was between 61 MKs, who could approve a withdrawal or transfer leading to a national referendum vote, and 80 MKs, who could approve such a withdrawal and forgo the vote.
MK Levin responded that he disagrees with the clause of the 80 MKs, but without that clause the government would not support the bill.
MK Oron (Meretz) objected to the bill. He charged that the bill was a Knesset bypass bill. He blasted the bill as one that will make it very hard to achieve peace and would cause the entire peace process to die. He alleged that this bill was being brought to vote because the coalition believes Netanyahu will try to give away Jerusalem and the Golan. He concluded by calling the bill undemocratic.
Diaspora Affairs Minister Edelstein (Likud) explained that this bill will prevent a follow-up to the Oslo accords in which a Mitsubishi or a Volvo swings the deciding vote. He expressed full government support for the bill and Levin’s four objections.
MK Molla (Kadima) called a national referendum a real danger. He wondered if the timing of the bill has something to do with Netanyahu supporting this bill at the expense of demanding a backing for his settlement building freeze. He recalled that Ben-Gurion didn’t ask for a national referendum when he drew the borders in 1948. He noted that if the issue of bringing the Ethiopian Jews into Israel went to a referendum he would still be in Ethiopia. He praised former Prime Minister Rabin’s Oslo peace agreement and peace agreement with Jordan, both of which were signed without a referendum. He warned that the world will look at Israel if this bill passes and call us an apartheid state. He informed the plenum that if this bill passes he will propose a referendum bill that would separate church from state. He concluded by warning that the message we are sending with this bill is that Israel is against peace.
MK Zahalka (Balad) charged that this bill will end the peace process. He explained that no Palestinian will negotiate a deal that does not include Jerusalem. He called on Israel to follow international law and return to the borders of June 4th 1967. He blasted Israel for saying there is no need for a referendum to annex Jerusalem or the Golan, but there is a need for one to withdraw.
MK Katzeleh (N.U.) stated that we don’t need a referendum to decide whether we should withdraw from any part of Israel because the answer is that any withdrawal is forbidden. He explained that because of that point the National Union at first was going to oppose the bill, but they have agreed to assist their friend MK Levin and vote as a block for the bill. Katzeleh concluded by saying that they don’t want to bring down the Likud government, but they do want to bring down Netanyahu and have the Likud replace him with someone more worthy, such as MK Ya’alon.
MK Levin reminded MK Oron that the bill already passed in 1999, and he was just expanding on and setting up the execution of that bill. He added that Kadima proposed this bill and passed it in its preliminary and first readings. He hoped that Kadima would vote for their own bill in its second and third readings.
MK Rotem (Y.B.) said that there is a national referendum every four years. Sometimes the right takes power and takes steps that the public did not vote for. He stated the public is against freezing settlement building and is against withdrawing from the Golan and Jerusalem. Therefore his party is voting for the referendum in order to keep the right in check.
MK El-Sana (R.T.) suggested that the referendum voting be limited to just the Golan Druze and the Arab Jerusalemites.
MK Adatto (Kadima) objected to referendums on fateful issues. She also objected to giving the people a veto on any Knesset vote. She charged that there will be lower voting numbers in a referendum than there is traditionally for a Knesset election.
MK Ghilon (Meretz) suggested that we go back to biblical times and that he and MK Katzeleh fight it out, throw punches and winner takes all. He noted that both of them are crippled and walk with a cane, and this would be both entertaining and cheaper than a referendum. Deputy Speaker Whbee (Kadima) asked Ghilon not to say such things in front of children. Ghilon responded that the children would be a lot better educated if they witness a fight between Katzeleh and himself.
MK Barakeh (Hadash) asked how a prime minister can negotiate if he can’t guarantee a deal without a referendum. He said that only a single country recognizes Jerusalem and the Golan as part of Israel.
MK Ben Ari (N.U.) said that although he is against a referendum he will vote for the bill. He blasted the MKs who are supporting Syrian President Assad by opposing the bill on the grounds that Israel should be allowed flexibility to withdraw from the Golan and thanked them for the motivation they gave him to support this bill.
MK Ganaim (R.T.) labeled the bill one for cowards. He accused Netanyahu of supporting this bill to ease the pressure he is receiving from President Obama. He called the bill undemocratic. He questioned why Israel didn’t need a referendum for the Sinai but they need one for the Golan.
MK Swaid (Hadash) questioned the context and the timing of the bill as well as the intentions of the MKs who are pushing it. He answered that the bill was an obstacle to peace. He blasted the Likud for supporting this bill in a corrupt bargain that would provide support for the upcoming settlement freeze.
MK Horowitz (Meretz) stated that this bill is undemocratic. He warned that the bill allows the people to substitute the Knesset. He noted that if the Knesset objects to a territorial withdrawal it will not go to a referendum. He called this bill a short-term solution to a long-term problem. He added that the bill could be defeated in the future by a simple majority of 2 votes to 1, so it is irrelevant. He concluded that Israel must withdraw to the 1967 borders and that Netanyahu himself will regret supporting this bill.
Diaspora Affairs Minister Edelstein stated that there was no agreement between Netanyahu and the Likud MKs concerning his support for this bill in return for their support for the freeze.
MK Sheetrit (Kadima) criticized the bill and called a referendum a dangerous precedent. He warned the ultra-orthodox that there will be referendums forcing them into the army and allowing public transportation on Shabbat. He warned that any person who would want to raise money to campaign during such a referendum is allowed tom and they don’t have to be an Israeli citizen. He blasted the Labor MKs who are planning on voting for this bill and told them they should be ashamed of themselves. He concluded by saying that citizens do not understand the situation as well as MKs and are therefore not educated enough to vote on these issues.
MK Zahalka said that this bill sends a clear message that the Likud does not want peace. He accused Netanyahu of ordering Shas to pressure him in order to relieve American pressure.
MK Eldad (N.U.) said that this bill comes from the public’s frustration of leaders who say something before the election and do something else after. He revealed that a good source told him that Livni called Mofaz her poodle. MK Shai (Kadima) criticized Eldad for revealing that story.
MK Khenin (Hadash) called today a dangerous, black, historic day. He stated that when Israel goes to war it does not ask for a referendum but now for peace they will. He wondered if the Ghajar village will be included in this bill and if we will have to exercise this very expensive bill to withdraw from the northern part of the village as the government decided last week.
MK Tibi (R.T.) called this Knesset the most extreme in Israel’s history. He blasted Labor for betraying their voters. He stated that Israel is headed in the wrong direction and this bill is another step in that direction.
MK Agbaria (Hadash) charged that MK Levin is passing this bill in order to get a better placing in the Likud primaries. He called the bill racist and said the nation has higher priorities for a national referendum than the proposed bill.
MK Zeev (Shas) called the bill an important one that is essential for Israel’s future. He noted that Israel annexing Jerusalem and the Golan did not derail peace talks and asked why a referendum would. He called Syria an enemy and added that this would prevent a one-sided disengagement. He recalled the wars in Gaza and Lebanon that followed such actions. He stated that sometimes democracy needs to protect itself. He called the Golan the heart and eyes of Israel’s strategic security. He predicted that if Israel leaves Judea and Samaria that Hamas will take control in the following months like they did in Gaza.
MK Shai (Kadima) said that the Knesset is neutering itself today, limiting its abilities and stature by giving the mandate back to the people. He joked that for the small things there is no reason to have a referendum, but for the big things we need to ask permission. He warned that a referendum can be manipulated to the point that its answer will be impossible for a government to implement and will endanger Israel as a stable legitimate democracy. He also questioned the need to take a sensitive subject like Syria and force it into the headlines during a time of quiet. He added that the Golan will not always be in Israel’s hands. He mocked the coalition, calling them a “bored Knesset”. He stated that the first thing Kadima will do when they overthrow the Likud government is repeal this bill.
MK Sheetrit said that every step the Likud takes that is not towards the peace process is distancing Israel from the peace process. He expressed his belief that if Kadima was in power there would have already been a peace deal with the Palestinians. He called for a land swap with the Palestinians that would trade land for the settlement blocks. He praised the Saudi initiative, which is signed by 25 Arab countries, and called on Israel to accept it. He revealed that he asked Prime Ministers Sharon, Olmert and Netanyahu to accept the initiative. He applauded President Obama’s Cairo speech calling for a regional peace. He called for a constitution that determines the final borders of the State of Israel and labeled the law irrelevant. He told Netanyahu to tell the truth and reveal that he does not want peace. He demanded there be a referendum if the Knesset does not approve a withdrawal, not if it approves one. He lashed out at the public and said they don’t have the tools or the information to make a decision. He concluded by commenting that the Knesset is actually working today for once, claiming that Tuesdays are irrelevant, Mondays are a waste of time and Wednesdays are predictable.
MK Zeev blasted Syria and Hamas, calling them killers. He noted how Hamas and Fatah fought side by side a few years ago and now are killing each other and how Syria is Iran’s best friend. He cynically asked if Israel should give up on Lod, Ramla and Acre now that they have an Arab majority. He moved on to the settlement freeze and said that Likud leads the coalition and Shas is a loyal partner who follows even if they don’t agree on everything. He revealed that an American embassy official told him that three months is just the beginning, and the freeze will be extended. He hoped that bills such as this would stop future freezes.
MK Dicter (Kadima) noted that for 62 years Israel lived without a referendum. He stated that all of Israel’s most fateful events would have failed a referendum and would have never happened. He predicted this law would bring apartheid when the Arab swing vote supports territorial withdrawal. He decided that a financial compensation for the people of Ghajar who are willing to move their houses is the best way to deal with that problem. He called the referendum bill a threat and said it was outsourcing Israel’s most important vote. He concluded by saying this bill has the potential to destroy Israel as we know it.
MK Ariel (N.U.) thanked MKs Levin and Elkin for helping advance the law, as well as residents of Jerusalem and the Golan. He expressed that this bill will bring unity to the nation. He blasted Netanyahu for lying about the length of the freeze, for lying about the freeze not including Jerusalem and for lying that America has made us promises that are not written anywhere.
MK Plesner (Kadima) warned the minorities of Israel that their days are numbered if this bill passes. He said that he especially doesn’t understand the ultra-orthodox MKs who support the bill. He warned that a country without a constitution and which makes decisions by referendums is not a democratic one. He warned that people will fight in the street over the referendum results. He charged that Netanyahu does not want this bill but is too afraid to oppose it and remains paralyzed. He warned that Las Vegas casinos will run a facebook campaign and decide the result of the referendum. He thought that there were responsible adults in the government that would stop this populist bill. He slammed the bill that he claimed would harm Israel’s legitimacy and gives our enemies ammunition. He accused Netanyahu of lying to Israel and telling them that there is a peace process when there isn’t. He noted that Labor’s leader Barak is against this bill. He attacked the rest of Labor for not saying anything and called them a bunch of old rags and prisoners who get released but decide they’d rather stay in jail. Deputy Speaker Tibi asked Plesner if he really thinks Labor are old rags. Plesner responded yes and added that Labor will disappear.
MK Oron asked how a bill that is supposed to unite the nation can be argued for six and a half hours if there is such a consensus. He warned that until the right realizes that he disagrees with the occupation as much as the right disagrees with withdrawing from the settlements there will be no real dialogue among Israelis. He asked that perhaps the Knesset needs 80 MKs to maintain the occupation of eastern Jerusalem and the Golan. He stated that this bill is not against him and Meretz, but it is against Netanyahu, who the right doesn’t believe. He informed that the bill says that if the national elections are within three months of the referendum, then both votes will take place on the same election day. He criticized the coalition, who was gathering 61 MKs for this bill, in order to prevent any appeal to the Supreme Court.
MK Levin thanked the MKs for debating the bill and said he appreciated those who opposed the bill and their opinion as well. Levin asked those opposing the bill if a decision determined by one MK’s vote that would destroying tens of thousands of homes was democratic. He asked if firing two ministers in order to pass the disengagement was democratic. He responded that before people’s lives are ruined for a Mitsubishi, it is a worthy thing to ask the public, just to make sure. He went on to slam those who have sabotaged the referendum bill since it was passed in 1999.
Objections from the opposition MKs were defeated by the votes of: 30-61, 33-62, 33-62, 31-62 and 32-65. Most of the MKs removed their objections after it became clear they would be defeated.
MK Levin’s objections to the bill were accepted 83-10-1, 63-30, 63-31 and 63-31.
The bill’s paragraphs were passed in their second readings, including MK Levin’s four amendments and excluding the opposition’s amendments: 62-31, 63-30 and 63-32.
The bill passed its third reading 65-33.
Most of the coalition MKs voted for the bill. Out of the right-wing 61 MK coalition of the Likud-Y.B.-Shas-U.T.J. and J.H., MKs Danon (Likud) and Landver (Y.B.) were the only MKs not present for the vote. MKs Gafni (U.T.J.) and Maklev (U.T.J.) voted against the bill. The 13 person Labor party was divided as follows: Ministers Simhon and Vilnai voted for the bill, five Labor ministers and deputy ministers did not vote and six Labor MKs voted against the bill. As for the opposition, everyone opposed the bill except the four National Union MKs, who voted for the bill, and half of Kadima. Kadima was split as follows: MKs Schneller and Aflalo supported the bill, 11 MKs purposely did not show up for the vote and 14 MKs voted against the bill. Kadima leader Livni had instructed her party to oppose the bill while MK Mofaz suggested that the Kadima MKs rebel and boycott the vote.
MK Levin thanked Prime Minister Netanyahu for backing the bill. He also thanked Coalition Chairman MK Elkin, Bibi’s assistant Tzvika Hauser, Likud Faction Manager Aliza Barashi, his parliamentary assistants and others. He also thanked former MK Yehuda Harel from the long-defunct Third Way Party for passing the bill in 1999. Ex-MK Harel is a Golan resident and the former personal assistant of assassinated Prime Minister Rabin.